Dark days, bright lights: 6 winter lighthouse trips in Ulster

Winter's here and the days are getting shorter but our lighthouses' lamps still shine bright, so when better to make a break for the coast? There are so many ways to enjoy and explore the Great Lighthouses of Ireland and this island’s many other maritime treasures.

Why not plan a winter road trip around these six unforgettable Ulster lighthouses?

The stunning Northern Irish coast boasts buckets of heritage and natural marvels and so many ways to explore them. Whether a day trip or a full-blown getaway, enjoy your pick of coastal fun.

St John's Point, Co. Down | Rupert Shanks

An Island Idyll | Rathlin West Light

Follow the awe-inspiring Causeway Coastal Route to take in heritage gems like the renowned Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, before hopping the ferry over to idyllic Rathlin Island, Co Antrim.

Home to Rathlin West Light, explore this fascinating ‘upside down’ lighthouse and learn all about its impressive 100 years of illumination. Not only a lightkeeping island, Rathlin boasts residents of a different kind too – 250,000 of them in fact! Northern Ireland’s largest seabird colony, the on-site RSPB Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre carries out important conservation work and welcomes the likes of puffins and guillemots in their thousands.

While you’re on the island, you’ll also have your pick of captivating walking trails, including the Rathlin Trail, Roonivoolin Walk, Ballyconaghan Trail and the Kebble Cliff Walk.

Rathlin West Light

Back in Black | Blackhead Lighthouse

Further down the Causeway Coastal Route near historic Carrickfergus and the Victorian seaside resort of Whitehead, stands Blackhead Lighthouse. Perched on a cliff edge, this early 20th-century beauty comes complete with three self-catering lightkeepers’ cottages. Surrounded by lightkeeping curiosities like old-fashioned whistle pipe signals, a stay here gives an authentic sense of seafaring history.

Make sure to go exploring along the Blackhead Lighthouse and Coastal Walk to soak up those views of Belfast Lough. Blackhead Lighthouse guided many famous vessels during Belfast’s golden age of shipping, including the ill-fated Titanic.


A Belfast Beacon | The Great Light

In lively Belfast, 30 minutes from Blackhead Lighthouse, you’ll find The Great LightWhile not a lighthouse as such, this behemoth produced one of the world’s strongest ever lighthouse beams.

The historic 19th-century optic sits in the shadow of fascinating Titanic Belfast on the popular Maritime Mile – the perfect place to stroll after learning all about Titanic’s Belfast origins. Weighing ten tonnes and standing seven metres high, The Great Light is pretty hard to miss!

The Great Light: One of the largest optics of its kind ever built

Star of the County Down | St John’s Point Lighthouse

About an hour’s drive south of Belfast, discover a lighthouse once painted by playwright Brendan Behan! The tallest onshore lighthouse on the island of Ireland, St John’s Point, Co Down, is wonderfully eye-catching with its yellow and black bands. The story goes that Behan’s father was contracted to paint a number of lighthouses across Ireland and enlisted Brendan to help paint St John’s Point in 1950. Brendan’s efforts, however, were reported to have been less than impressive. Apparently the playwright was “not amenable to any law or order”…

Another gem with idyllic self-catering cottages, St John’s Point is an excellent base for those looking to ramble quiet country roads or stroll rocky shorelines.

St John's Point, Co. Down | Rupert Shanks

A Donegal Delight | St John’s Point Lighthouse

A three-hour drive over to Ulster’s western coast leads you to another St John’s Point Lighthouse. Also showcasing delightful self-catering cottages, this Donegal outpost guides vessels across beautiful Donegal Bay and Killybegs Harbour.

Make sure to take a stroll along nearby pink-hued Coral Beach or venture out to Streedagh Strand, the very site that Spanish Armada ships were wrecked in 1588. Or take an hour’s spin to Sliabh Liag, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. In a word, epic!

St John's Point, Co. Donegal

A Pretty Peninsula | Fanad Head Lighthouse

Standing firm way up on the breathtaking Fanad Peninsula (two hours from St John’s Point, Donegal), the lighthouse at Fanad Head was once voted the world’s most beautiful.

Another coastal corner with cosy self-catering cottages, it’s said there’s gold in these waters as a result of the 1917 wreck of the SS Laurentic – not to mention whales and dolphins too! For those taking a day trip, tours of the historic lighthouse tower run every half hour and require advanced booking, while the on-site visitor centre will give you a sense of the lighthouse’s intriguing past.

Did you know that the horizon around Fanad Head occasionally showcases glimpses of the famed Northern Lights? Up in the northern reaches’ unpolluted skies, keen sky-watchers might be rewarded with a spectacular summer light show.

And once you’ve inhaled all that rejuvenating sea air? You can always take the 45-minute spin to Glenveagh National Park. One of the country’s six National Parks, it boasts over 16 hectares of forest terrain, lakes and highlands. Land and sea in one terrific trip!

Fanad Lighthouse

Feeling inspired? Discover more Great Lighthouses all over the island of Ireland.

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